NBA Finals: Miami Takes 3-1 Lead Over Oklahoma City

The Miami Heat beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 104-98 Tuesday night. Game Five will be played Thursday night. The Heat's LeBron James has been suffering from a left leg injury.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

For the Miami Heat, it's three down, one to go. Last night in Miami, the Heat pulled within one win of an NBA championship, with 104 to 98 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder. That gives Miami a 3-to-1 lead in the series and a comforting statistic for Heat fans to think about until tomorrow night's game 5. No team in NBA history has come back from a 3-1 deficit in the finals. NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman joins us now to talk about it.

Good morning.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hi.

MONTAGNE: So we often describe Miami as flashy. So how flashy were they last night?

GOLDMAN: More grit than flash, really. They battled all night. They battled back from a first-quarter Thunder lead that got as big as 17 points. And then the Heat showed great toughness and resolve in the closing minutes. Their best player, LeBron James, got is with leg cramps. You know how that feels. He got carried off the court, went in and out of the game. Finally out for good with a minute left. And the Heat closed it out without him.

Point guard Mario Chalmers hadn't really been contributing much, but Rio, as his teammates call him, was huge last night. He had 25 points, a number of key baskets at crucial times. Dwayne Wade, player 1A to LeBron's 1, was great. Chris Bosh and Shane Battier made important plays, too.

MONTAGNE: Well, as good, though, as Miami was, they couldn't do much to stop Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook. What was that all about?

GOLDMAN: He was great offensively - 43 points, dazzling, fearless drives to the basket. He shot 62 percent from the field. That's really good. And certainly it quieted the critics who'd been saying that Westbrook shoots too much, he makes bad decisions. He definitely had it all going on on offense.

But, Renee, this was the third close game in a row and the third in a row that the Thunder have lost. They just haven't been able to make key plays down the stretch. And Westbrook, as great as he was, made some key mistakes in the final minutes. Not just to pick on him, his teammates underperformed, as well.

I think we are seeing a young OKC team struggling through its first finals. On the other side, a Miami team that went through a painful finals loss just last year is doing all the things it has to to avoid that again.

MONTAGNE: And let's go back to that little bit of history that I mentioned. In the NBA finals, teams have taken a 3-1 lead 30 times. And those teams have won the title each of those times. History seems to be on Miami's side, right?

GOLDMAN: It certainly does. But more importantly are how these two teams are playing right now. I talked about OKC's problems. Miami is just finding a way. They have weathered - the Heat have weathered so much during these playoffs - elimination games, the constant criticism that comes with being the NBA's most hated team outside of Miami, Chris Bosh's injury, now LeBron's cramps. They've weathered that, and now James especially is within 48 minutes of his first elusive title. Hard to see the way he's playing, the way the Heat are playing, that they will be denied. And quite possibly as soon as tomorrow night.

MONTAGNE: But is he OK?

GOLDMAN: Yeah. As I mentioned, he had to be carried off the court last night. It was a scary image for Heat fans, but, you know, he's not injured. That's the key thing. And the mantra for the next two days in Miami is hydrate, LeBron, hydrate. To see him come back on the court still twisted by those cramps and to his a key three-point basket near the end of the game, you just have the sense that his time, their time, is now.

MONTAGNE: Tom, thanks very much.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome.

MONTAGNE: NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

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